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Spring Fling in Northern Ontario

Where else would you rather be in Northwestern Ontario's Sunset Country? • Credit: Gord Pyzer

"You never know what you're going to catch next," I confessed to Mark Melnyk, host of the popular television show Guided, With Mark Melnyk. It's the reason I love ice fishing in Northern Ontario at this time of the year ."

I had no sooner spoken those prophetic words than I spotted a big red blob suddenly appear on my sonar screen, slowly rise up to inspect my offering and then whack the lure.

When I pulled the hefty walleye through the hole in the ice a couple of seconds later, it capped off a four-fish bonanza. In four consecutive drops of my lure down the hole, I had caught a beautiful whitefish, a jumbo perch, a four-pound smallmouth bass and now a gorgeous walleye.

Indeed, it is the reason I convinced Mark to postpone his earlier, mid-winter plan to ice fish and film with me and buddy, Dave Bennett and to wait instead for the late winter / early spring period

I am betting he is glad he took my advice.

Dave Bennett walleyeDave Bennett with a gorgeous Northern Ontario "spring fling walleye". (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

In two easy days of ice fishing last week in Northwestern Ontario's Sunset Country, Mark, Dave and I managed to land several hard fighting whitefish, more jumbo perch than we could count, a slew of walleyes up to 26 inches in length, at least two dozen smallmouth bass, the best five of which would have weighed at least 18 pounds had we been fishing a summertime tournament, a mid-teen lake trout and three gorgeous northern pike.

And get this -- most of the fish came out of the same, few, shared holes in the ice, so there was no way we could predict what species was coming up next.

It actually created a pleasant puzzlement for Mark because his television show is structured around him fishing for a couple of days with local anglers and guides who teach him the " ropes". Then, on the final day, a guest arrives on the scene and Mark assumes the head honcho duties.

At the end of the show, the guest and guide score him on how well he learned his duties.

And so it was that Dave and I spent the first two days teaching Mark how to operate the snowmachines, how to read the sonar units, how to auger holes through the almost three feet of ice and how to do a host of other "tricks of the trade".

At least that was the plan, until Dave, who operates Dave Bennett Outdoors received an unexpected cell phone call around noon, on Day Two, from his wife Sarah, who was expecting their second child in a couple of weeks' time.

Only someone forgot to tell the baby.

In a mad panic, Dave hopped onto his snowmachine and blazed a trail across the frozen surface of Lake of the Woods on his way to the hospital in Kenora, leaving Mark, cameraman Jeremy Kennedy and me howling with laughter.

Talk about a "first".

Bright and early next morning, under a gorgeous azure blue sky and warm spring sun, friend Michelle Trudeau arrived at the lake to meet up with Mark and me.

Michelle Trudeau and WFN television host Mark MelnykMichelle Trudeau and WFN television host Mark Melnyk with a beautiful Northern Ontario whitefish. Michelle was Mark's prearranged guest for the day because it was now his turn to take over the head guide duties. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Now, to be sure, guiding on Lake of the Woods, or any other lake in Northern Ontario, isn't the difficult task it can be on waters lacking the abundance of fish-filled cover and structure. Still, Mark was in a quandary. Should he start the day fishing along the shelf-like breakline that had rewarded us with so many fish the night before, or head off in search of whitefish that tend to bite better during the mid-day hours?

Mark decided on the latter strategy and when Michelle's rod buckled under the weight of a hefty whitefish within five minutes of dropping her Jigging Rap down the hole, it appeared Mark had quickly learned what needed to be done. Michelle's first whitefish was quickly followed up by a second comparable size fish. But then we experienced a lull in the action.

"Let's try another spot," Mark suggested, putting the 20- minute rule into effect. When you don't catch a fish in 20 minutes' time, it's best to move on to a new location. That is when Mark started looking like a superstar.

Drilling holes over a shallow shoreline shoal, Mark suggested that the whitefish may be bunched up and feeding more aggressively in 20-odd feet of water rather than the deeper depths we had just departed.

Michelle TrudeauMichelle Trudeau lands the first whitefish she has ever caught while ice fishing in Northern Ontario. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

And wouldn't you know it? Michelle no sooner dropped her jig into the hole than she spotted a fish on her sonar screen. The fish and lure met in a "head-on collision", Michelle let out a joyous howl and it was obvious she was fast to something big. Only it was a 4-pound smallmouth bass, not the whitefish we had first imagined.

After Michelle and Mark landed another dozen or so similar brown beauties -- wintertime anglers enjoy a catch-and-release bass season on Lake of the Woods -- Mark was looking much too smugly.

smallmouth bassMichelle Trudeau proudly examines the first smallmouth bass she has ever caught while ice fishing in Northern Ontario. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

The bravado reached a crescendo, however, after a scrumptious shore lunch of crispy, deep-fried, lemon battered whitefish fillets when Mark brought Michelle to the spot where we had done so well the previous evening.

Landing northern pike, walleye up to 25 inches in length, jumbo perch and several more big bass, Mark puffed out his chest as the sunset over the horizon, waved to the bald eagles circling lazily overhead and communicated via his body language that, "this early spring guiding business is a breeze."

whitefish (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Unfortunately, rather than argue the point, I had to agree with him. It is, indeed, rather silly and simple, so long as the scene you choose for your early spring fling is somewhere in Ontario's magnificent north country.

(By the way, Dave and Sarah Bennett gave birth to a beautiful, bouncing baby girl they named Myra Rose. I suggested they consider calling her "Whitey", "Smallmouth" or maybe even "Woods", but for some strange reason, they didn't take my advice.)

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